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  • Writer's pictureTatiana Murphy

Understanding Processing Speed and Its Impact on Learning

For Parents and Teachers of Neurodiverse Learners

A Personal Story

Imagine a classroom where a teacher asks students to read a passage and then answer questions about it. While most children start writing almost immediately, Sam, a bright student diagnosed with dyslexia, sits still, reading the passage multiple times. Despite his high intellectual potential, he needs a bit more time to process the words that seem to dance on the page. This is a day in the life of a child with slow processing speed—a cognitive pace that doesn't reflect his eager mind.

Processing speed is a critical cognitive attribute that affects how quickly one can understand and respond to information. This is particularly important in the context of neurodiverse learners, including those with dyslexia. A nuanced understanding of processing speed, especially in children with high learning potential, can greatly assist parents and teachers in providing effective support.

What is Processing Speed?

Processing speed refers to the pace at which an individual can take in information, make sense of it, and begin to respond. This includes reacting to incoming information, understanding it, thinking about it, formulating a response, and executing that response. It's important to note that processing speed is not synonymous with intelligence. A child can be gifted yet process information more slowly than peers.

Various factors like neurological development, age, learning differences, fatigue, stress, and environmental conditions can influence processing speed.

Strategies for Supporting Slow Processing Speed

1. Routine and Familiarity: Like a well-worn path, familiar routines can make the journey smoother for students with slow processing speed. Repetition can create 'memory muscle' that helps tasks become more automatic and less demanding.

2. Understanding Behaviour: Slow processing can be misconstrued as defiance or inattention. It's crucial to understand the underlying cognitive processes. Sam's hesitation isn't defiance; it's deliberation. Teachers and parents can become detectives, understanding the 'why' behind behaviours.

3. Instructional Adjustments: Slowing the pace of instruction to match the child's processing speed, without causing attention lapses, is beneficial. Nonverbal supports like pictures and symbols can aid comprehension.

4. Organizational Supports: Checklists, task outlines, and graphic organizers are like the brain's filing system. They can assist children who have organizational difficulties alongside slow processing.

5. Peer Support: Cooperative learning groups and peer buddies can be effective, especially in managing organizational aspects of academic tasks.

6. Self-Advocacy: Encouraging children to ask for help or additional time and to start tasks early can be empowering and effective. Voices from the Journey: "I learned that it's okay to ask for a moment," says Sam, now a thriving high school student. "Once I did, my teachers understood me better, and I could understand myself better too."

Understanding and accommodating slow processing speed, particularly in children with high learning potential, is essential for creating an inclusive and effective learning environment. By recognizing the unique challenges and strengths of these learners, parents and teachers can help them thrive academically and socially.

Next Steps

As you finish this article, take a moment to consider how you can support the Sams in your life or classroom. Perhaps it's by offering a listening ear, or maybe by providing that extra time without question. If you're looking for more information on processing speed and how to be a champion for neurodiverse learners, here are some resources to get you started:

List of suggested websites


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